Principal Cast : Dakota Johnson, Sydney Sweeney, Isabela Merced, Celeste O’Connor, Tahar Rahim, Mike Epps, Emma Roberts, Adam Scott, Kerry Bishe, Zosia Mamet, Jose Maria Yazpik.
Synopsis: Cassandra Webb is a New York metropolis paramedic who begins to demonstrate signs of clairvoyance. Forced to challenge revelations about her past, she needs to safeguard three young women from a deadly adversary who wants them destroyed.


My cynicism over the Sony Universe of Marvel Characters – aka the inexplicably acronym-ed SUMC, which managed to bypass an entire committee of people who thought that might be a good idea – only increases with the delivery of the banal, charmless, soulless continuation of a comic book universe centered around the supporting characters of Spider-Man, and not featuring the popular web-slinger. Madame Web, a title that drops the second B in the central character’s surname in favour of better linking to the Spider-Man property because audiences are too stupid (or too smart) to make the connection on their own, is a powerfully pedestrian example of filmmaking-by-committee, led by a complete lack of reason for being other than Sony keeping the rights to Spider-Man by having to roll out gormless feature films every few years, and delivering a routinely confusing viewing experience. An experience, mind you, that’s led by a continuously nonplussed Dakota Johnson (who surely must have through she was signing onto a completely different kind of movie) and a trio of bizarrely connected sidebar characters only serving to reinforce my idea that making full length feature films about Spider-Man’s supporting character roster and not actually having Spider-Man in your movies is the dumbest idea ever devised by a legal department trying to ensure corporate profitability.

The film centres around Cassandra “Cassie” Webb (Dakota Johnson), an orphaned and deeply cynical Manhattan paramedic with a poor attitude and limited prospects until she suddenly develops mysterious ability to see into the future following a near-death experience. She angrily meets a trio of young woman who are being pursued by a seemingly powerful millionaire explorer, Ezekiel Sims (Tahar Rahim), and develops her power to allow Sims’ visions of his own demise to come true (or something, it’s all very flaky if you ask me). One of the women is played by Sydney Sweeney in what can only be described as “dowdy office chic” costume choices that do nothing for the actress whatsoever, while her on-screen co-stars, Isabela Merced and Celeste O’Connor, have roles that skirt one-dimensional cardboard effigies of actual characters and barely register as living human beings. Throw in some astoundingly dumb “hunting for super-powered spidermen in the Amazon jungle – think Midichlorians in Star Wars helping to explain how Jedi powers work as far as backstopping Spider-Man’s origins somewhat – and dull action sequences, and Madame Web is one of the stupidest comic book films to come down the pipe in a while.

Director SJ Clarkson has had a lengthy and hugely successful career behind the camera for the small screen, having worked on blockbuster shows like Dexter, Marvel’s Jessica Jones, and Succession, seems like a perfect pedigree to approach big-screen filmmaking, and to a degree there’s a technical and creative pulse lurking just offscreen somewhere here that would have been better suited to more character driven material; Madame Web lacks any semblance of coherent character development or plot logic thanks to a bourgeoise screenplay, as always credited to the “vision” of multiple people including the director, meaning it was probably written in an accountants office by people who couldn’t crack the material. The film’s script is awful, lacking complete character arcs, any kind of exposition, history or motivation on any of the supporting roles, and offends with some of the most stupid set-pieces ever devised by the hands of human people. The whole film feels like a setup to some larger tableau without doing a shred of legwork in making the viewer give a shit about the people in the movie, which is quite the task when you have the likes of Sydney Sweeney, Mike Epps, Emma Roberts and poor Adam Scott in this trash fire.

The film lacks a competent, or even compelling villain with motivations we can appreciate or understand – nope, it’s another “villain of the week” bullshitter with Tahar Rahim’s moustache-twirling antagonist lacking any agency other than somehow trying to track down three young women dressed in spider-verse spandex who will apparently kill him in the future. This itself is a bit of a bait-and-switch – at no point within the film do any of the characters wear costumes outside of a vision or fantasy sequence, meaning Madame Web skimps entirely on having its quartet of female heroines actually “become” the heroes they’re intended to be. Who the hell made that call? Dumbest decision of the year, so far. The fact that it looks like they tried to cut around Rahim speaking on camera at every moment of the film, having him with his back to the viewer, off in the shadows, or just hidden by a hand or another character, makes me wonder how much ADR they performed on this role in reshoots. If you rewatch the film, keep an eye on how often they try to hide Rahim’s lip movements compared to the dialogue he is delivering, and tell me you don’t see it too.

As far as the principal heroes, Dakota Johnson sleepwalks unconvincingly through a role that feels like it was generated by AI; meaningless exposition and quirky plot points as her powers develop – and even one that’s never explained to the viewer – make for an unconvincing title character that never earns our appreciation or empathy, she’s just there and I guess we’re expected to care about her for some reason? Little wonder Johnson gave absolutely zero shits about promoting the film once she was out of contract. Watching it you can’t really see any investment from her in it, and I imagine acting on blue-screen or with a script that feels like it was being re-written constantly on the spot must have been horrendous. I bet if you asked the director what her defined Cassie Webb as a character the answer would have been a blank stare. Because it sure as shit doesn’t appear on the screen, whatever it is.

For their part, Sweeney, Merced and O’Connor can’t escape either – they are given truly terrible lines of dialogue, risible on-screen banter, while the trio lacks utterly any kind of the ensemble chemistry that would lead them to team-up like they do in the comics, so this aspect of the film is also flawlessly dismal. How you fuck up Sydney Sweeney by putting her in a neck-to-toe tomboy outfit for an entire film baffles me, and yet that was a decision somebody made. Brief two-day-shoot Mike Epps and Emma Roberts cameos and a protracted stint by Adam Scott as the SUMC’s Uncle Ben Parker – yes, that Uncle Ben Parker, who is around for the birth of infant Peter Parker towards the film’s latter stages – feel like appendages taped to the corpse of this film from other movies we haven’t seen yet. The film’s visual tone is that of a nightmarish full-colour noir goulash, a hodge-podge of dull editing choices for Cassie’s “future visions” and Ezekiel Sims’ “death visions’ – come to think of it, a lot of people have a lot of visions in this film and yet there’s no actual acknowledgement of just how dumb it all feels – mashed up with rote, dreary comic book shenanigans that are as pointless as they are boring. I just couldn’t care about a single thing that happened in this film, because the film didn’t seem to bother getting me to care.

Madame Web feels intentionally stupid. Like, Sony knew whatever shit they vomited out into the public sphere would be sipped up by ravenous fanboys simply because it was encumbered with the Marvel name, which at this point should probably give Marvel Studios pause about associating with a studio that obviously doesn’t care about the brand damage a string of shit films – like Morbius and Venom: Let There Be Carnage before it – could do to them. I mean, Marvel haven’t exactly been knocking it out of the park day-in, day-out lately, but Sony appear to be actively delivering steaming piles of visual garbage just because they can. Hard to understand how they can produce the god-tier Spider-Verse franchise and these ginormous turds under the same masthead. If you can, I defy you to find anything meaningful, enjoyable or intellectually stimulating in Madame Web. It’s a film devoid of fun – there’s almost zero laughs here, and if there were I was cringing so hard I missed them – and the action sequences lack any kind of kineticism or energy, they just sit on the screen like a flaccid penis waiting for something to happen. I think it’s safe to say that SUMC is quite literally a hostage crisis nobody over at Marvel Studios has the balls to sort out. Avoid Madame Web, it’s a trainwreck.

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